Montgomery County, Kansas residents call rule that jails medical debtors for not coming to court counter productive
ACLU says thousands of warrants issued each year for amounts as low as 28 dollars
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Kan. – Some Montgomery County, Kansas residents are strongly opposed to a district court rule that could land people with medical debt in jail.
A CBS News and Pro-Publica report brought the rule to national attention.
And now residents are as frustrated as ever.
“There’s a lot of ways to work around this besides putting people in jail,” says Independence, Kansas resident Viola Welch.
In Montgomery County, if someone owes on medical bills, they have to go to court every three months. Something that by itself causes the person to pay court fees.
“The fees stack up. So it’s a no win situation,” explains Coffeyville resident Annette Porter. Porter says she has thousands of dollars in medical debt, but she can only afford to pay 30 or 40 dollars a month because of the court fees.
And if they miss two court of those court dates, they’ll be arrested for failure to appear and sent to jail.
To get out, they have to pay 500 dollars — which goes toward the original debt and the plaintiff’s attorney.
And in some instances, residents say people sit in jail for over a month waiting for their court date because they can’t afford to both post bond and pay for court fees.
Kristin Maun with Kansas Legal Services says she defends clients in these cases on a regular bases, so is familiar with how the practice works.
She explains it’s called a “debtor’s examination,” and is allowed by the state.
When it comes to the practice of issuing bench warrants, she says it’s a rule that’s specific to the district court.
CBS reports that the rule was recommended by Montgomery County attorney Michael Hassenplug, who receives a portion of the bond payments that are made by debtors.
The entire practice is something that residents we talked to who have, and haven’t been through it, say is counter productive, and even gives them second thoughts about going to the hospital.
“I think it’s ridiculous how people do go to jail on them medical bills. It won’t accomplish nothing cause if you don’t have the money, then how they gonna get it. They can’t get blood out of a turnip,” says Porter.
“If they can’t afford to pay it, why put them in jail? That’s not gonna pay it any faster,” says Welch.
“I just feel that most people should be given a chance. Because I believe most people are good people. Sometimes they get in a situation, an accident happens, a lot of things could go wrong,” says Coffeyville resident Donna Hoover.
Maun says that for the rule to be changed, it would have to be done by the judges in the district.
The ACLA says that thousands of warrants are issued each year, some of them on medical debt amounts that are as low as 28 dollars.
She also stresses that Kansas Legal Aid represents debtors in these cases.
If debtors need legal advise or representation, they can contact Kansas Legal Services by calling 1-800-723-6953, or by going to https://www.kansaslegalservices.org/.
KOAM has reached out to Michael Hassenplug, but he has not responded at the time of this article.